Tom Joyner

Dec 30, 2020

4 min read

Bucktown Basketball Hoops

Here’s a video I made of basketball hoops in my neighborhood, followed by some back-story.

When the pandemic first arrived in my Chicago neighborhood of Bucktown and the lockdowns began, there was nothing for us to do but take to the sidewalks. There were a lot of us out walking and running, but at the same time we were all afraid of getting within 6 feet of each other, even for the few seconds it takes to pass by each other. We now know a lot more about how the virus spreads, but back then it just added more anxiety to our already anxiety-filled lives. Because almost every sidewalk is bordered on the residence side by a fence or building, and on the street side by planters, gardens, or other amenities, there simply wasn’t enough room to stay safe, we thought. If someone was walking the other way or trying to pass you, there was no way to do that and stay 6 feet away. One of us would have to abandon the sidewalk, and there was no place to go but to the street, if you could even get to the street.

The situation was made worse when the 606, a popular bike and pedestrian path that runs through Bucktown, was shut down by the city (for being too popular, at least from a social distancing standpoint).

As in most Chicago neighborhoods, almost every block in Bucktown is intersected by one or more alleys that provide off-street access to garages. You can see them in this Google satellite photo, the bare concrete stripes halfway between the tree-lined streets.

The alleys of Bucktown

Unless you lived in one of the homes along an alley (or worked on a city garbage truck or for a utility company), you never gave them any thought. You knew they were there, but you never went down them. If you happened to glance down an alleyway, you saw only a bleak stretch of garage doors, garbage bins, and utility poles adorned with “Target: Rats” posters.

During the pandemic, however, their lack of appeal made alleys perfect for avoiding other people, and I began to use them as much as possible when walking and running. Like most things, the more you pay attention, the more interesting they become. I began to notice elaborate decks built on top of garages, tranquil backyard gardens, and secluded balconies. Even if I rarely saw another person, these views somehow felt more intimate than their street-facing facades. I could feel the presence of people living their lives there, and this provided a small bit of solace.

But most of all, I noticed a lot of basketball hoops, and at some point I began to take pictures of them. Some seemed like they hadn’t been used in years, while others appeared to be brand-new (I wonder, did the pandemic also caused a surge in basketball hoop sales?).

Many of the pictures are of dubious quality. They were taken quickly because I was concerned about owners not being thrilled about a masked person taking a photo of their garage. Why was I doing this? I had no idea myself, so how could I explain? I found myself becoming obsessed about discovering new hoops or making sure I’d found every one of them. I limited myself only to hoops found in the boundaries of Bucktown (including the disputed area that overlaps with Wicker Park). To provide closure, I eventually made the pictures into the video. I still roam the alleys, but I no longer take photos of basketball hoops, even though I’ve discovered a few that I missed or that have been recently put up.

BTW, my favorite is still this place a few blocks from my home, where a basketball court was built behind a home at the intersection of two alleys: